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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Rider Error

Karen Chaton posted a very good blog on 10/26/09 about pulls and evaluating the cause. Although I agree that in most cases the root cause can be traced to rider error, I think that it's possible that some of the fault can lay with chance or fate.

You notice that I don't say that fault lays with the horse as well. I'm torn on this issue because I can see both sides with equal clarity. On one hand, the horse has a job and a responsibility. It can't be a "team" if one of the members of the team has absolutely no responsibility. But there's also the argument that since humans/rider was who trained the horse, gave it a job it may or may not be suitable for, and asked it to go into a situation that it was/was not trained properly for, that the end result is that the human is at the root, responsible for all the behavior of the horse. This argument can be taken to the extreme as the root of most situations IS human and IS related to riding, does that mean if we really value our horse that we will not ride and keep it as "safe" as possible in a stall or pasture some where?

I'm somewhere in the middle of this debate, probably falling more on the side that the horse has a responsibility in the relationship. Mugwump posted here about the debate of giving a horse a "choice" or voice in the relationship. I encourage my horse to think, but I also demand that she look to me when she's confused, scared, or in need of reassurance. She also knows that my word is the last word in the matter. I *don't* want to start a mares versus gelding debate right now, but I feel more comfortable with this type of relationship with a mare than a gelding.

I *do* think that the rider has the responsibility that when the horse talks, to listen. This means pulling even if they've passed the vet check. This means (talking specifically endurance here) finishing overtime, or slowing down etc.

Of course all of this assumes that the world is full of good horse people that bring conditioned mounts to rides, don't want to ride a lame horse (and can recognize when their horse is lame), and generally have the best interest of the horse at heart.

Yes, I would say *all* horse injuries/accidents/endurance pulls are 100% preventable in hind sight. But each precautionary measure comes with it's own risk too. As horsepeople, we constantly weigh the benefits for and against and make the best decision possible. Are you willing to stop riding so you can be absolutely sure nothing will happen? Because sometimes, I'm convinced, sh*t happens.

Karen's original challenge was for the reader to think of the last pull at a ride and how it could have been prevented. This is a great exercise and turns pulls into a learning experience, instead of shrugging them off as *crap* happens without really evaluating whether it was rider error or that "rock with your name on it".

Tevis - pulled 68 miles - lame

1. I should have ridden by myself the entire way. In retrospect, Farley was much more relaxed the 2nd 1/3 of the ride, than the 1st 1/3. However, it's possible that even if I hadn't agreed to ride with someone (we separated at Robinson due to unforeseen circumstances), I would have ended up stuck behind a bunch of people. At least way I only had to ride with one other person and we both had similar pace and strategy in mind. She wasn't "hyped" in the beginning but may have been more relaxed if riding by ourselves.

2. A rock (?) hit the inside of RF, causing a little bruise. Was intermittently lame going down hill. Front boots may have prevented this. I didn't use them because she had done rocky rides with no issues, we had pre-ridden 2/3 of the trail with no issues, and boots can rub and hold heat and cause their own set of issues. However, next year, I will use front boots at this ride.

3. At Foresthill Farley started to get stiff and sore in the hind end. There are several things I could do to prevent this.

3a. More rides. In retrospect we didn't do very many rides, even though the ones we did "meant" something (over 50 miles, multiday, hilly, rocky etc.). This year, I'll try to get more rides in the beginning of the year.

3b. More trotting hills in rides and during conditioning. My strategy last year was to walk at the hills (up and down) and trot the flats and very slight up and down hills. It worked well. In order to get that next level of conditioning I have started to ask for the trot up hills in training rides.

3c. Better riding. By being a better rider she could save her muscles for the trail instead of using them to support me. To this end I have started taking dressage lessons.

4. Knowing the cut off times better. If I had been more familiar with the cut offs, I wouldn't have panicked trying to get to Michigan bluff/chicken hawk very quickly when some said we only had 15 minutes. They misread the card when in reality we had plenty of time.

Anytime you evaluate a ride for what went wrong, evaluate what went right:

1. Electrolyte protocol worked well. She drank and ate all day, got very good marks for hydration.

2. Saddle and tack fit - no soreness, no galls

3. Pacing - I wasn't riding the clock and I once I was the through the first 1/3 of the course (which I hadn't preridden) was right on with my estimates of trail time.

4. Excellent attitude from Farley all day. She was right there with me, happy to be on the trail.

Excluding my first year with Minx, I've never been pulled for the same thing twice (talking about root causes here, not the specific pull code). Hopefully I will continue to use each pull as a learning experience. (and will continue to learn without the pulls!)

Here's an earlier post where I discuss pulls in endurance.


  1. The thing I love most about endurance: it is a THINKING sport.
    There's always more stuff to learn and to do better next time. I really, really love that!

  2. What I learned from last race was that I cannot ride injured either. My horse went to the edge of a pond for water, found a deep spot starting the process of falling over and over again. He recovered with no problems, I wrenched my back trying to stay on.

    The horse did fine at the vet check but I was in pain. The next leg of the race was unfair to my parnter.He was having to carry more of my load because I became a burden and was off balance. My signals also became unclear to him.

    The next vet check he passed but was tired in the back end. I pulled him. I made him work too hard carrying my floppy body.

  3. The only way to truly prevent the possibility of a pull at an endurance ride, is stay home. I feel that crap can happen to ANYONE, even with the best training and prep, and the best horse and most educated rider in the sport. And then, when it gets in to metabolic issues, Hank coliced in the pasture, eating his normal grass. How could I have prevented it? Not sure if anyone could have. In his case, because we did surgery, we found the cause, which was the fact things were just kind of tangled up, not where they should be. The digestive system of a horse is not the best design.

    So, we prep, try to do everything the best we can to have a horse ready, conditioned etc, for the sport we do, but (and this is where Karen and I kind of disagree) some times, things happen beyond our control that end up with us pulling from a ride for about every "pull code" out there.

    Also, riders have different feelings about having a pull at a ride. I have met those who push the limit, and if they pull, may never make a change, or even consider if they can change a thing for next time. Others fret, dwell on it, worry about it, and even worry that this is not the sport for them. We are all different.

    Oh, my last pull? Cold weather, rain heading in, horses butt was a little tight, but vet said we could go on, he saw no real issue. did an RO pull, as I was not wanting to head back out, get caught in the storm, and have the horse be even more cold, and possible tie up. How to prevent it? Stay home, horse in barn, me in house. ;-)

  4. I did say that I think some things to happen out of our control. That is a given - horses have problems when we aren't doing anything with them.

    It's just that all too often riders don't have the experience yet to know that had they done something different, they could have avoided a problem they encountered on an endurance ride.

    I see lots of people in denial too. If a horse thumps three or four times after completing a ride (note I said "completing"), and then crashes at the next ride - is that really something that should have been a surprise? Those are the kinds of things that riders need to pay more attention to. It may seem like it's out of the blue or a sudden onset of a problem but in reality sometimes theses horses were sending out red flag signals all along and nobody was paying attention. Or they were just simply ignoring it.

    Same thing for the horses that the vets recheck on a regular basis, for whatever reason. It's too easy to find something to blame it on rather than accept responsibility. I hope that people got that point in my blog post.

    I absolutely do know that things happen that we have no control over. It's kind of funny how everybody always has to point out their exceptions. I find in real life at rides, that those are just that - exceptions. Not the norm. A lot of pulls and horse problems could be avoided by more careful preparation and management, IMO.

  5. Karen - I think we mostly agree.

    It IS funny how everyone will say that others in endurance override their horses, push them too hard etc etc, but for their pulls? It was definately a rock with their name on it! LOL.

    I've seen both sides of it -

    One person I knew continually lamed horses one after another. they either pulled or they top 10'ed and their horse ALWAYS looked dead tired afterwards. mmm...

    I've seen people in endurance blame themselves for pulls and tragic occurances that were NOT their fault. They are completely racked with guilt and it makes their lives miserable because they cannot let go.

    Lastly, I have been accused by the pleasure weekend riders of abusing my horse because she's sweaty, or covered in salt, or that I ride most days of the week. Or that she's foaming on the bit during my dressage practice. Endurance is definatley not the sport to do if you want to blend in with the rest of the horse world! I always take the time to explain to people what I do and why I do it to try and change their perception, but it's hard.

    I think this issue is a definately "know thy self" issue. For example, I know that I'm likely to be confused and either in denial or taking full (sometimes misplaced) responsiblity for 48 hours. After that I can look at a pull objectively and decide what (if anything) needs to be changed.

    Thanks for coming back and commenting here Karen. When I read your post I think I didn't get everything you were trying to say.


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